From Coogee to Tilak Nagar


Louise Hawson’s vivid photographic exhibition 52 Suburbs Around the World goes beyond cultural clichés to explore the “real” side of suburbs including India and Australia

Photographs copyright of Louise Hawson

In a quest to explore the uncelebrated neighbourhoods of the world, Sydney-based photographer Louise Hawson explored 10 countries, 14 cities and 52 suburbs with her daughter Coco, all in just one year. Her photographs, almost entirely diptychs, are currently being displayed as the exhibition 52 Suburbs Around the World at the Museum of Sydney, and present images of the ordinary suburbs of Australia up against those of India.

“I’m motivated to explore the ‘unfamous’ side of a city by a child-like desire to be surprised and to make discoveries, rather than follow a well-worn trail where things have already been discovered a zillion times,” says Hawson. “I want to observe real life, so venturing into neighbourhoods where there’s normal life going on is much more satisfying to me”.

Hawson’s quest to “capture the beauty that exists in an apparently ordinary world” was ignited after her project 52 Suburbs of Sydney, where she explored the lesser known suburbs of her home town. This trip in turn was propelled by a bite from a white-tailed spider, which lead Hawson to change her career path to photojournalist.

Her trip around the world in 2012 included Hong Kong, New Dehli, Istanbul, Paris, Rome, Berlin, New York, Los Angeles, Tokyo, Kyoto, Auckland, Wellington, Melbourne and finished up Sydney.

“Yes, they’re all famous ‘over-photographed’ cities; [but] my mission is to paint a more imaginative, intimate picture of them than you normally see,” she said at the start of her trip on her blog Hawson’s aim was to “ignore the postcard clichés and focus instead on finding ‘ordinary’ beauty in the places where ‘ordinary’ people live”. This can be seen in the exhibition, which presents 100 (of the 30,000 photographs taken on her trip), simply displayed photographs on fine art raag paper. Eight vibrant photographic prints of New Dehli, and seven of Melbourne and Sydney are included as part of the exhibition, which explore the differences between countries and cultures, as well as the remarkable similarities.

This effective presentation of 52 Suburbs Around the World, presented by Sydney Living Museums, allows the photographs to speak for themselves and are split up into cities. More images can be seen in the slide show that is part of the exhibition, as well as on her blog.

Hawson enjoys using diptychs, which are two images presented side by side (presented with a caption) because they are “a playful way of presenting images that allows me to make connections between seemingly unrelated things and to tell ‘mini stories,’” she says. “I often juxtapose people with the built environment, making a connection through a shared texture, colour or shape – anything that unites the images and creates a new meaning”.

Interesting points can be made from the photographs of Indian Australians living in Melbourne and those in the New Dehli images. “What I also keep being surprised by is that as abysmal as the built and natural environments can be, there is so much beauty in the people, the saris, the temples and the street food,” says Hawson. “And in the case of Lajpat Nagar, the art that may fade quickly but will leave an indelible mark on me forevermore”.

As director of Syney Living Museums, Kate Clark said in her exhibition opening speech, the exhibition displays an “extraordinary mixture of cultures”. It also shows Hawson’s interest in the cultures found in Australia compared to the original cultures that they derive from overseas. Her celebration of the beauty of the ordinary suburbs goes beyond the usual cultural clichés found on postcards and forces the viewer to suspend any preconceived notions.

Although the “world is an imperfect place, when you spend a year walking the streets… you find beauty in unexpected places… find hope, and joy that exists, despite the many problems” Hawson says. 52 Suburbs Around the World allows the viewer to explore these lesser known neighbourhoods of the world’s famous cities, and join in with their inhabitant’s daily rituals. “Explore + photograph + share = my idea of a good time,” says Hawson, which sums up her exhibition.


20 July  24 November

Museum of Sydney is open daily 10am – 5pm